Meet Tucker Robertson: The most intriguing prospect in the 2022 NHL draft
Passed over in 2021 because he didn't play, Robertson is leading the OHL in scoring and proving to NHL teams that they should have looked at his deep athletic bloodlines
At the end of the day, Rob Wilson can appreciate the unique and difficult spot NHL teams were in going into the 2021 draft. After all, if teams picked every insanely competitive player who came highly recommended by his junior coach, there would be a lot of organizations chock full of bad players with off-the-charts work ethics. And really, the last time any of them had seen Tucker Robertson, the kid was an eight-goal scorer playing on the fourth line for the Peterborough Petes as a 16-year-old.
But Wilson was hoping just one team might have listened to him and taken a flyer on Tucker Robertson in the sixth or seventh round. Right about now, there are 32 NHL teams wishing exactly the same thing. Because after missing 18 months of hockey because of the pandemic and switching positions, Robertson is turning out to be a first-round talent who will almost certainly get a legitimate crack at making Canada’s team for the World Junior Championship. Not only does he lead the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 15 goals and 34 points in 17 games – which also ties him for first in the Canadian Hockey League – nobody in the OHL has taken more draws than the 447 Robertson has taken, nor has anyone won more than the 257 he has won.
Not bad for a kid who had exclusively been a right winger until this summer when Wilson told him he was going to try him down the middle this season. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good with that,’ ” the 18-year-old said. “So every day, I just went out in my driveway and got my dad to take draws against me. My sister or my mom would drop pucks and we would just basically practice.”
Yeah, about that family. If teams had drilled down deeply enough on Robertson last season, there’s a good chance one of them would have taken him based solely on his genetics. His maternal grandfather is Whit Tucker, a former flanker for the Ottawa Rough Riders who won two Grey Cups, holds the CFL career record for most yards per catch and is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. His paternal grandfather is Bob Robertson, a tough-as-nails defenseman who won a Calder Cup with Johnny Bower and the Providence Reds in 1955-56 and led the league in penalty minutes two years later. When his grandfather died in 2012, Tucker received the Calder Cup ring. “It’s really cool,” Tucker said. “I look at it all the time and sometimes I wear it. But he had really big meat hooks, so I don’t fit into it. Super, super wide fingers.”
But wait, there’s more! His father, Gary, played four years on a hockey scholarship at St. Lawrence University, around the same time his mother, the former Kelly Tucker, was a basketball star at Bishop’s University. (“My mom always chirps my dad that she won a national title and he didn’t,” Tucker said.) The youngest and only boy, Tucker also has four sisters who are playing or have played sports at an elite level. Sam, 24, played varsity basketball at St. Francis Xavier University and the University of Toronto. Hayley, 23, played basketball for three years at Vermont, then Ryerson University and now is an associate coach at the University of Waterloo. Twenty-year-old twins Ireland and Payton are both on athletic scholarships – Ireland for track and field at Gonzaga and Payton for soccer at the University of Buffalo after transferring from the University of Memphis. And John Tucker, a one-time 30-goal scorer who played 600-plus games for four NHL teams, is his uncle.
Robertson needed that support network and then some after the draft this summer. He watched every pick over the two days hoping his name would be called. He watched as teammate Mason McTavish was picked in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks and as good friend Wyatt Johnston, with whom he rollerbladed on the tennis court near their north Toronto homes to stay in shape during the pandemic, was taken later in the first round by the Dallas Stars. “I think I was a good enough player to get drafted, but nobody really saw me because of the year off,” he said. “I kind of understood why I didn’t get drafted, but it was tough for me. I know how the draft works. You usually go lower than you expected and I was expecting to go maybe in the sixth or seventh round.”
After securing an invite to the Carolina Hurricanes’ rookie camp, Robertson went back to Peterborough this season with a new position and a new sense of purpose. With McTavish spending the first part of the season in the NHL and the Petes ravaged by injuries, Robertson thrived under the increased ice time and responsibility. He found his scoring touch and excelled in all situations for the Petes. If it had been a small sample size, perhaps you could chalk it up to a fluke. But the 17-game mark is exactly a quarter of the way through the OHL season. “None of us in Peterborough are surprised,” Wilson said. “This isn’t slowing down. This is the real Tucker Robertson you’re seeing and this is the kid who’s going to improve through this year and next year. He wants to get better every day. You have to kick him off the ice and you have to kick him out of the video room. You want a player to do what he does.”
It will be interesting to see how many more Tucker Robertsons - late 2002- and 2003-born players who missed the season because of the pandemic - there are out there. Both the Western and Quebec Major Junior Hockey Leagues played compressed schedules last season, so scouts at least had some video to help them assess the talent that was available for the draft. But the OHL didn’t play a single game in 2020-21. It’s pretty easy to see why the OHL had only 27 picks in the draft, with only 14 of them after the third round. It’s clear one of them who was missed in the OHL won’t go undrafted in 2022. Now it’s just a matter of how high he’ll go, likely in the first round. “Robertson is a top-32 player for the 2022 draft,” said TSN director of scouting Craig Button. “Probably top 20. He’s the perfect example of a player who slipped through because of COVID.”
Another crack he likely won’t slip through this season will be with Hockey Canada. Even if he doesn’t make the final roster, Robertson has almost certainly earned himself a spot in the selection camp. He didn’t even really consider it until last weekend when, after a one-goal and five-assist effort, a fellow Pete suggested he should receive consideration. “One of my teammates, I think it was Emmett Sproule, said, ‘Hey, maybe you’ll get invited to the World Juniors,’ ” Robertson said. “And I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ But if I did, I think I would do well and really hope I do, but I don’t have any expectations for it. I try to keep it out, but it has definitely crept into the back of my mind.”